Mobile coverage and 5G rollout plans published by Ofcom

Monday, 12 March, 2018

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Updates on Ofcom’s plans for improving mobile coverage and 5G rollout support in the UK have now been published.

Placing coverage obligations on mobile companies plays an important part in ensuring more people and businesses can receive good coverage.

While previous obligations have resulted in improvements, Ofcom wants mobile companies to go further. It is now planning new requirements for when it releases spectrum in the 700 MHz band for mobile services, which is expected to auction in late 2019.

In 2014, all four mobile network operators agreed with the UK Government obligation, which meant mobile phone calls could be made in 90% of the country’s landmass by the end of 2017, using measures of mobile coverage in place at the time.

Separately, Ofcom required O2 to provide 4G mobile data coverage to 98% of premises across the UK by the end of 2017.

Since then, mobile companies have invested in their networks and, following an assessment of relevant coverage data, Ofcom has written to all operators to confirm they have complied with the obligations.

Ofcom is now proposing that winning bidders of some of the spectrum would have to roll out improved 4G mobile coverage in rural areas — including for properties that are currently unable to access good coverage from any operator. The proposals would also require these mobile companies to provide better coverage in each of the UK’s nations.

Importantly, the coverage levels for the proposed obligations use Ofcom’s new, enhanced mobile coverage measure. Today’s mobile devices receive far more data, but also require stronger signals than older phones. So, as announced in its Connected Nations report in December 2017, Ofcom has changed the way it measures coverage to reflect the growing usage and expectations of smartphone users.

This means that the proposed coverage obligations will extend coverage much further, bringing improved mobile reception to more rural, harder-to-reach areas.

Ofcom has also published details of how it will support the rollout of 5G, the next generation of mobile technology. This includes plans to release different spectrum bands to fuel 5G. The spectrum bands will enable both mobile operators and other innovative companies to develop more revolutionary services that 5G may support, such as services in manufacturing, transport and healthcare.

It has also launched its Innovation and Trial Portal, which will make it easier to access spectrum to test innovative technologies, applications and business models.

Image credit: © Prather

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